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Analysis: American Psycho and Tell Me Your Dreams

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    An Analysis on Multiple Personality Disorder in novels American Psycho and Tell Me Your Dreams Identity issue is a central theme in the novels of Bret Easton Ellis and Sidney Sheldon. Ellis’ novel American Psycho portrays a charming Patrick Bateman who cannot identify the real world from his fantasy and Sheldon’s Tell Me Your Dream illustrates Ashley Patterson having two alter egos. The issue of identity conflict within the characters is what brings the characters to a loss of identity.

    Hence, in this essay I will first define what multiple personality disorder is followed by an analysis of the character Patrick Bateman from American Psycho through the way he views himself, other’s perspective of him and the way he views others. Subsequently, this essay will then analyze the factors which bring Ashley Patterson from Tell Me Your Dreams to losing her identity. Thus I argue that both the characters’ Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) is what leads them to the loss of identity. Critic Collin A. Ross notes how MPD disrupts an individual’s identity. According to Ross, MPD also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a condition that is likely to occur when two or more distinct personalities exist in one body and alternately take control over an individual (Ross 18). Multiple personality may arise if an individual has experienced a traumatic event or is unable to control his/her behavior at times. This individual lacks the ability to recall important information usually far greater than the normal degree of forgetfulness. Having MPD is a way to lose one’s identity. As the initial personality may be more passive within a person, the person is unable to identify his/her true self. According to Paul F. Dell’s A New Model of Dissociative Identity Disorder, a person with DID can switch from one personality to another where each personality has its own identity; and the primary personality is in an amnesia state during the activities of the other personalities (Dell 3).

    There are thirteen symptoms caused by DID in Dell’s research, however, this essay will focus on five of the mentioned symptoms: amnesia, identity confusion, self-alteration, flashback and auditory hallucinations. Amnesia is a deficit in memory caused by brain damage, disease, or psychological trauma. Identity confusion is a sense of confusion of who the person really is. Identity alteration can be observed when a person uses a different tone, range of language or even a change of facial expressions. Flashback refers to a sudden and disturbing vivid memory of a past event, typically the result of psychological trauma. Auditory hallucination may refer to one hearing voices arguing in their head or voices heard commenting on others’ actions. The symptoms of identity confusion and auditory hallucinations are found in Bateman while flashback, amnesia and self-alteration are found in Patterson’s personality. American Psycho and Tell Me Your Dream discuss the subject of MPD albeit both characters in the novel experience it differently. Both characters have more than one distinct personality; resulting in experiences of dissociative state of mind. The inevitable consequence of experiencing a dissociative state of mind is the loss of their true identity as characters go through periods of total self-unawareness. Thus, I will make evident the loss of true identity through the use of character’s personality suffering from DID in the two novels. In the novel American Psycho, the main character, Patrick Bateman suffers from MPD, which will be shown through analyzing how Bateman views himself, how others regard him and how he perceive others.

    Throughout the novel, Ellis utilizes Bateman’s monologues when narrating Bateman’s self-absence: There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours … I simply am not there. (American Psycho 201) From this monologue, Bateman sees himself as someone else who is distant from Patrick Bateman and who is disconnected from himself. According to Dell’s research, Bateman suffers from identity confusion. By adopting the third-person viewpoint, Ellis allows readers to identify Bateman’s empty personality, thus signifying Bateman’s detachment from himself. In addition to Ellis’ illustration of Bateman’s personality detachment, Ellis also makes use of other characters’ perception of Bateman to show how Bateman suffers from MPD. When Bateman communicates with the outside world, he is very charming and likeable, resembling someone who is harmless. In a particular event, Bateman leaves a message for his lawyer confessing his vicious acts of murders only to be taken lightly by his lawyer. In fact, his lawyer insists that Bateman is “such a brown-nosing goody-goody” (206), taking Bateman’s confession as a drunken-joke. Although Bateman seems harmless in other people’s perception, he narrates the killings of several men and women in rather graphical details. One may assume he did commit the crime yet Ellis showcases to readers that the narration of the killings is just Bateman’s hallucination. The vivid account by Bateman is due to his dissociative state of mind believing he is a murderer. In this sense, he suffers from the identity confusion symptom. Hence, Bateman’s multiple personality is shown through different characters’ point of view of Bateman.

    Bateman’s multiple personality is not only seen through the eyes of other characters but also the way Bateman views those characters. Bateman unconsciously disregards other characters’ response in conversations or hears replies he wishes to heed, which confirms Bateman’s auditory hallucination. “So what? That’s no excuse to marry Robert Hall.” “Marry?” she asks wide-eyed, defensive. “Did I say that?” “Didn’t you say marry?” (128). Because of Bateman’s auditory hallucinations, Bateman’s dissociative state of mind is revealed thus allowing readers to understand the characters’ loss of identity. American Psycho illustrates Bateman’s MPD through the way Bateman views himself, others and their perception of him. These three factors demonstrate Bateman having MPD. On account of his multiple personalities, Bateman cannot identify which personality of his is the initial one, thus he cannot identify his true personality. This ultimately leads to Bateman’s loss of identity.

    Not only does Ellis use MPD in his novel but Sheldon’s Tell Me Your Dream also explores the same subject through his character, Ashley Patterson. According to Dell’s research, Patterson suffers from flashback. The novel portrays three characters, Ashley Patterson, Toni Prescott and Alette Peters. Yet a closer examination of them reveals all three characters are in fact one character, Ashley Patterson. “One of Ashley Patterson’s personalities committed murder, but it was a personality-an alter-over which she had no control (Tell Me Your Dreams 244). Sheldon presents readers the dissociative state of mind of Patterson through the murders committed by her alter ego because of her father’s sexual abuse, which caused the other personalities to be born within her. Ashley’s alter-ego killed and castrated five men, all of whom tried to have a sexual relationship with her. The reason for the killings is because of the flashback she sees of herself being sexually abused by her father. This leads to Patterson’s need of protecting herself. His lips were on hers, and he was forcing her against the kitchen counter. “I’m going to make you happy, honey.” It was her father saying, She froze. She felt him pulling her clothes off and entering her as she stood there naked, silently screaming. And the feral rage took over.

    She saw the large butcher knife sticking out of a wooden block. She picked it up and began stabbing him in the chest, screaming, “Stop it, Father…. Stop it…”

    She looked down, and Jim was lying on the floor, blood spurting out of him. (332-333) Ashley Patterson’s alter-ego committed the crimes in protection of Ashley. This shows that she suffers from DID and with reference to Dell’s research, I will showcase the evidence of Patterson’s symptoms: Self-alteration, flashback and amnesia. As Ashley cannot identify her true personality, it is inevitable that the character loses her true identity. The birth of Prescott and Peters is a factor contributing to the loss of Ashley Patterson’s true identity. The personality of Prescott was born because of Ashley’s father, Dr. Patterson, molesting her as a child where Prescott admits: “It was in London. She was in bed. He sat down next to her and said, “I’m going to make you very happy, baby,” and began tickling her, and she was laughing. And then… he took her pajamas off, and he started playing with her. “Don’t my hands feel good?” Ashley started screaming, “Stop it. Don’t do that.”But he wouldn’t stop. He held her down and went on and on…. ” (327) In addition to the molestation, her mother despised her because she was the center of Dr. Patterson’s attention “She knew she had done something wrong, but she didn’t know what. Mama hated her” (329).Prescott’s personality is used as a shield to protect herself from harm’s way and recalling memories of horrible incidents. “Her parents had always fought about the same thing…Ashley could not remember what it was. She had blocked it from her mind” (9).

    This shows that during parents’ arguments, the personality of Prescott is unearthed, and becomes more dominant to protect Patterson. From the quotation, we see the symptom of amnesia where Patterson’s mind has blocked memories to protect her. Peters, her other personality, was born after her father’s second occasion in molesting Patterson. “Papa came into her room while she was asleep, and he was naked. And he crawled into her bed, and this time he forced himself inside her,” (329). Peters’ personality is born and used as a device to safe guard Patterson. This is shown when Peters admits “Ashley couldn’t stand what happened one night, so I came to protect her” (329). Self-alteration is evident as we see Patterson become another person. The sole intention of Prescott and Peters’ birth is to keep Ashley Patterson protected. Sheldon created his main character to have symptoms of DID such as flashbacks, amnesia, and self-alteration where Ashley “loses consciousness of where [s]he is, or what [s]he is doing [which] can last for a few minutes, days or sometimes weeks” (264) and has no clue of the murders committed by Prescott and Peters. The murders are simply a means to keep the terrified little girl, Ashley, from the monsters that she believes are men. Because of the dissociative state that Ashley suffers during the killings, she is at the hands of her alter ego. The pain suffered from Ashley’s experience has sprouted dissimilar distinct personalities. Thus readers do not know who the original Ashley Patterson is. As Patterson cannot recognize her original identity, we conclude that she suffers from MPD, hence her loss of true identity.

    The novel Tell Me Your Dreams by Sidney Sheldon shows that Multiple Personality Disorder suffered by an individual can lead to the loss of true identity. This is shown from the birth of the different personalities and the personalities controlling the main character’s behavior nevertheless being a part of her. As Patterson is protected by different personalities, readers see that she cannot identify her true personality. Therefore, through the art of literature, Sheldon submits to the fact that MPD leads to the loss of identity within an individual. Both characters, Patrick Bateman and Ashley Patterson in the novels are shown to be suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder which eventually leads to their loss of self-identity. Bateman’s various personalities exhibited by his behavior towards himself and others and the perception of others towards him hinder his identification of his true self as he submits himself to being fictitious. This ultimately guarantees the loss of identity in Patrick Bateman. In the case of Ashley Patterson, the early birth of characters within her shows that the personalities are all part of her. This exemplifies Patterson’s state of uncertainty as her original identity is ambiguous; this demonstrates the loss of Ashley Patterson’s true identity. Through both characters, it is evident that Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) results in the loss of true identity due to the uncertainty of a genuine personality. Works Cited

    Dell, Paul F. “A New Model of Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Psychiatric Clinic of North America 29 (2006): 1-26. Print. Ellis, B. E. American Psycho (1st ed.). New York: Vintage, 1991.Print. Ross, A. Colin. Dissociative Identity Disorder: Diagnosis, Clinical Features and Treatment of Multiple Personality (2nd ed.). John Wiley & Sons, 1996. Print. Sheldon, Sidney. Tell Me Your Dreams (1st ed.). New York: Warner Books, 1998. Print.

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